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F1 Sauber driver Wehrlein hits back at critics over absence

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SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) Sauber driver Pascal Wehrlein has hit back at critics who questioned why he missed the first two races in Formula One.

Wehrlein will finally make his debut for Sauber at the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend, after Italian Antonio Giovinazzi replaced him at the season-opening Australian GP and then the China GP last weekend.

The 22-year-old German injured his back in a crash at the Race of Champions in Miami in January, sustaining hairline cracks in vertebrae and compressing some of his intervertebral discs.

But there was confusion surrounding the initial driver switch in Australia because Wehrlein competed in the first two practice sessions at Melbourne, leading to speculation.

“I don’t care too much what the others say. They didn’t know my situation,” Wehrlein said on Thursday at the Bahrain GP.

“If you don’t know what injury someone had, you shouldn’t criticize him. It’s quite simple. If it was just some muscle pain or anything else, do you think Sauber would accept me to not drive?”

Wehrlein is confident he will be fit enough to race on Sunday.

“I’ll be fine in the car. No pain, that’s the most important thing,” he said. “The track is also quite flat, not many bumps.”

Wehrlein impressed at times last year with Manor Racing during his F1 debut season, finishing 10th at the Austrian GP for the team’s only point.

Verstappen doesn’t want F1 season to end after recent run of form

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Max Verstappen says he is not ready for the 2017 Formula 1 season to come to an end after enjoying a run of strong form through the closing stages of the campaign.

Verstappen endured a rocky run of form through to the end of the European season that saw him suffer a number of reliability issues and score just a single podium finish, taking third in China back in April.

However, the Dutchman has rallied to score more points than any other driver in the last five races, including victories in Malaysia and Mexico, as well as a podium finish in Japan.

Verstappen heads into next weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix chasing a third win of the year to sign off, but joked he does not want the season to end just as he’s got into a good groove.

“We will, of course, try and end the season with a strong result in Abu Dhabi,” Verstappen said. “Last year was actually quite a good race after skipping a pit stop following a spin at Turn 1, it was hard to manage the tires to the end of the race but we did it and finished fourth.

“I would say that my favorite part of the track is at Turns 2 and 3, the fast left, right. It’s also very cool driving underneath the hotel and racing in the darkness with all the lights.

“The final sector at Yas Marina is actually quite technical so you have to be really precise there, but it should also be our strongest part of the track.

“There are quite a few overtaking opportunities to make the race interesting, before the long straight at the hairpin and then at the end of the straight under braking for the next chicane section.

“Abu Dhabi is the last race on the calendar, but I don’t actually want the season to end. I’m really fired up at the moment and I just want to keep going.

“The nice thing will be to spend some time with friends and family over the winter break and then I will look ahead to January and get back into training before it all starts again.”